Mountain building takes millions of years. It seems like trail building is equally slow, especially when it involves Cheyenne Mountain.
A broad, round-topped peak that forms part of the backdrop for Colorado Springs, Cheyenne Mountain has taunted hikers in the area for decades. It is just a few miles from the city center, and its hidden meadows and thick conifer forests hold historic trails and long-abandoned roads. Long ago, it was a hunting ground for American Indians, and for a short time, it attracted prospectors hoping for gold. In the late 1800's, it was a popular destination for rich tourists who rode burros to an exclusive lodge.
Today, the mountain has a zoo on its lower flank, an antenna farm on its summit, and a military installation deep in its bowels. And sprawling at its base, its namesake state park is popular for grasslands and forests that offer great, close-in hiking, mountain biking and running trails.
The park is fairly open, and features campgrounds as well as 21 miles of multi-use trails. It’s hot in the summer, and those who visit often encounter rattlesnakes and an occasional bear or mountain lion. In the winter, the sun makes the trails perfect for running or hiking with little snow.
The land for Cheyenne Mountain State Park was purchased in 2000, but its 1,680 acres ended at the base of the peak. After massive delays, money woes, and botched plans, the park finally opened in 2008. The mountain itself and the additional adventures it offered remained off-limits, but those who wanted access persevered. The year the park was open, the city of Colorado Springs and the state brokered a deal and purchased the top of the mountain. Optimistic officials said trails should be done by 2011, but that didn’t happen.
The parks department finally completed its management plan for their newest segment of land in 2012, and work began on trails on Cheyenne Mountain. Park manager, Mitch Martin, says momentum is finally building. “In our management plan, the Top of the Mountain Trail was a high priority, and we started working with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado as soon as we could,” he says.
Challenged by weather, VOC volunteers have worked on the Dixon Trail – the route that connects the park’s North Talon Trail to the summit of Cheyenne Mountain – for the past three years. A snowstorm stopped them the first year; and on the most recent work days last year, monsoon rains halted work.
Volunteers for the VOC, the premier trail-building non-profit in Colorado, are “rehabbing and rerouting the trail, which is a historic, 100-year-old route, as necessary,” Martin says.
Today, about a half-mile is finished; when it’s completed, the Dixon Trail will be three miles long, with an elevation gain of 2,200 feet. It’s a steep path, similar to the elevation gain of the first grueling three miles of Barr Trail on Pikes Peak. Current plans allow hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians on the first half of the Dixon Trail; from that point, it will be open to hikers only.
Dixon is steep and shaded, and it tops out at a green, wildflower-choked meadow on Cheyenne Mountain. Hikers who make it there will be rewarded by a brand-new trail system in the second phase of opening Cheyenne Mountain. The Top of the Mountain will total 3.6 miles on 1,021 acres.
That part of the mountain is years from opening, but those who don’t want to wait to explore it can join a work crew this summer. The trails on the top are being designed by Rocky Mountain Field Institute, a local non-profit environmental group. Through RMFI, an Earth Corps crew will camp and work on Cheyenne Mountain for two weeks in July. On their last day, July 26, local volunteers can join them. (Register at the RMFI website.)
“That’s a great way for people to get on the mountain and see what’s going on there,” Martin says.